STEPHEN JONES, SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR HEALTH: Great to be here at Aranda House with my good friend and hardworking Senator from the Northern Territory, Nova Peris, and the CEO of Aranda House, Carole Taylor.
We’re here because we want to see the impact of the Commonwealth Government’s cuts to drug and alcohol services in regional and remote communities.
We know that we have a big problem with alcohol and other drugs and we need the rehab services to help people. The Government is running a $20 million advertising campaign telling people that we have a problem with ice and then slashing almost $800 million from health funds supporting services which are helping people dealing with the problems of ice, alcohol and other addiction problems.
We are here today in Alice Springs and Nova and I are keen to get out and see what is happening on the ground.
JOURNALIST: Is there any particular funding cut from Central Australian drug services?
JONES: We know that there have been two problems with funding services here in the Northern Territory and I’m sure that Carole can comment on this. These are services that are already under pressure, Aranda runs a 20 bed facility I understand –
CAROL TAYLOR, CEO OF ARANDA HOUSE: 20 plus eight –
JONES: They are funded for 20 but they have got a demand that well exceeds that. There is a big demand for services specialising in women’s rehabilitation. We know that this is a problem, because you have got women who want to turn their lives and if they have kids they are in danger of losing their kids and having them put in foster care. This creates another cycle of problems within those families. We know that the delay in federal funding led to services like this having to lay staff off. Many of the services have staff with five, six or seven years’ worth of experience and retaining experienced staff is difficult. They had to let them go because they couldn’t tell them if they would continue to get paid in a few months. These are the sorts of problems that they are dealing with. There has been almost $800 million cut from the Flexible Funds, there is no guarantee that any service around the country will be spared. We are calling on the Minister to come here to Alice Springs and guarantee funding for critical services like this. In fact we not only need to guarantee the funding, we need to ensure that they are paid for the services that they are actually currently providing.
JOURNALIST: How is that pressure Carole?
TAYLOR: Well, the pressures are always great. The bottom line is, each year what we are asked to do is to do more with the same amount of money. This is effectively a cut to services. We have to had to call for some redundancies here for a variety of reasons, not least of which is the Northern Territory Government as well. So between the two governments it’s been a bit of a nightmare, not knowing that you have ongoing funding. We didn’t really have anything signed off by the end of the financial year, so it took a while to figure out whether we were going to continue our services or not. As I said, we are constantly being asked to do more with less. We know that there is a problem with women and children, there is nowhere here where women can go with their kids. We have two babies here now, that sort of care is not even in our charter. It’s not something that we would normally do but you can’t say no to people. They have small children, they do need help and they do need rehab and we are happy to take them.
JOURNALIST: What is the greatest area that are experiencing pressure in? Is it having women and kids?
TAYLOR: It’s not huge. Our biggest problem has and always will be alcohol at this point. We need a safe place for women to keep their kids with them. We need services that will stop other people interfering or intervening in their lives. For example, if you go into a drug and alcohol service you would normally lose your kids. That is not something that we would ever push for at any time!
JOURNALIST: Am I right in saying that [inaudible] had their overnight beds funding cut? So that now they don’t have a facility which –
TAYLOR: I believe so, though I think they might be getting it back.
JOURNALIST: But at the moment is this the only facility for women when they come out of prison?
TAYLOR: Pretty much, with their kids yes.
JONES: What we need is end-to-end services. It’s not just residential rehab services like Aranda, which do a fantastic job. But we also need the post-rehab services to stop people relapsing, to give them wrap-around support. But of course we all know that the best sort of support that you can give to someone after they have gone through rehab is employment. So we need the post-rehab services, the specialised services, to help people get their lives together. They have made a choice that they want to get off the booze or that they want to get off the drugs. Because we know what the service provider of last resort is – it’s prison. At over $300 a day it is a very expensive service provider of last resort. I might ask Nova Peris to say a few things about this.
NOVA PERIS, SENATOR FOR THE NORTHERN TERRITORY: Thank you to Stephen Jones, the Shadow Assistant Minister for Health, for taking the time to travel out to Central Australia. We do know that here in the Northern Territory, it is almost an epidemic now with the alcohol situation. Domestic violence - it is there and alcohol fuels it. Services like here at Aranda are imperative for enabling women and their families to get back on their feet. As a member of several committees which look at child protection and the escalating number of Indigenous kids in particular going into foster care, these are things that we really need to invest more in. We need to ensure that people who come into rehab do have an opportunity of leading a better life for themselves and their families.
JOURNALIST: Senator, as a Territorian yourself and someone who has witnessed the Government policies over recent years. Are they working? Are the policies working?
PERIS: Look, what I do know is that Nigel Scullion is not going forward with the alcohol management plans. We do have a problem with alcohol and then you are talking about the problem but they are cutting vital services. Especially education programmes, we know that if you have a quality education the likelihood of you needing services like this is very limited. We know that there are going to be funding cuts to the Centralian Girls Programme here in central Australia. This is not a good thing for young women in Central Australia. It’s not a good thing for society, we need to educate children and give them hope not take that hope away.
JOURNALIST: Is there a specific model that you would like to see?
PERIS: Look, if you allow children to have a quality life that starts with early education and it starts with women feeling good about themselves. Women who value themselves, who can provide the certainty and good education and a roof over the heads of their children. We’ve seen cuts to the Department of Social Services, including $95 million cut to remote Indigenous housing. That is not a good thing; you can’t expect children to go to school, you can’t expect adults to get a job if you are cutting back on vital services that enable Indigenous people to get a good start in life.
JOURNALIST: Are you in support of the supply policy by the Northern Territory Government to improve locations?
PERIS: It’s an expensive roll-out; the police have said that they don’t like it. These are the things that we had - the banned drinkers register was in place and working but the Government took it away. If people want to get their hands onto alcohol they will, but we need to give them an alternative. Closing down or reducing the number of alcohol services is not a good thing. So having cops outside of bottle shops, that is not good for people in these communities. Let’s go back to the core issue which is enabling Aboriginal people to have a good crack at life.
JOURNALIST: Just back on the issue of enough beds and accommodation for women and kids here. What can they do, what is the first thing Nigel Scullion can do?
PERIS: Well, he provides a lot of lip service. He talks a lot about the empowerment of Aboriginal people and he talks about getting Aboriginal kids to school. Yet you cut funding to services that enable children and parents to get a good start in life. So what we find in Canberra is that when there is funding uncertainty you can’t retain quality staff and that is a big problem for services like this one. They need a five to ten year strategic plan to enable people to get the quality service and then to go on and lead a better life.
JOURNALIST: Isn’t there also the difficulty of finding service providers? Like, Stuart House has been out of operation because they can’t find anyone to run it. Should this be acquired by the Government and run by the Government?
PERIS: I think that people who are employed by services like this probably don’t get looked after as well as they should. We should be able to provide an employment strategy in terms of retaining quality staff so that they continue to do what they do. That is to be able to help people who come to these services so that they can improve their lives. If there is a problem with retaining staff then we need to ask – are we properly supporting them?
JOURNALIST: Nova, on a Top End matter. The Territory Government asked for a tender for a boarding school in Nhulunbuy recently. Warren Snowdon has said previously that there was a promise [inaudible] that has been ignored and now this is a private tender. Do you have any thoughts on that?
PERIS: Well, again Aboriginal people’s lives are used as political footballs. That promise of the boarding school, this is what the community wanted. So Warren Snowdon has been an incredible politician for the people of the Northern Territory, it’s been a real honour to travel around with him. These kids from these remote communities wanted to come in and go to this boarding school and again the Northern Territory Government is letting students down. We’ve seen 150 teacher position cuts across the Territory. We need more teachers in our schools, quality teachers so that students can get a good education.
TAYLOR: In our field it is a real struggle to get money in your budget for training. Without money in your budget for training you cannot keep advancing the people that you want to advance. We get some wonderful people in this sector and we would love to train them up, keep them, and make sure that they are top quality staff. But if you don’t have money in your budget for training than that is very difficult to do.
JOURNALIST: Have you guys applied for extra funding?
TAYLOR: Of course, we’ve applied everywhere for extra funding and we’ve had no luck whatsoever.
JOURNALIST: What is the reasoning not giving extra funding?
TAYLOR: The comment normally from whatever level of government it is you are dealing with is that it is the other level of government’s responsibility. It is all cost shifting I think.
JONES: I want to say something on this. Another part of the problem that organisations like this one face is short-term funding. Anyone who thinks that problems with alcohol and other drugs are going to disappear in 12 months time probably hasn’t been to Alice Springs or any of the suburbs of the eastern states where we have big problems with alcohol and other drugs. So if we know that it is an ongoing problem why do we have 12 month funding? Just as you’ve got the last funding grant you’ve got to apply for another one. You are spending all of your resources trying to get the next funding grant. It doesn’t make sense. More security of funding will make the lives of people like Carole, who is dedicated to providing a decent service, a lot easier. They will be able to focus on the main game of helping people put their lives back together.
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